Probably because I’m a huge fan of Spiderman, I was interested in photography from an early age. At one point I had even considered a career in photography, until I realized how bad I am at composition and how much talent is required to be a photographer. In high school I took a photography class and really enjoyed it, but it was obvious that it was not for me. Coincidentally within the realm of the paranormal there is a different kind of photography which I was recently reminded of; (real talk it was because I spent the weekend marathoning The X-Files) Psychic Photography or ‘Thoughtography’.
The origins of this particular psychic expression seems to be with a Japanese Psychologist named Tomokichi Fukurai. Fukurai was an assistant professor of psychology at Tokyo University around the turn of the 20th century, around 1910 or so. He was the first to recognize this phenomenon which he called nesha, spirit photography. Fukurai’s studies into psychic areas were occurring almost simultaneously as the introduction of Western Spiritualism ideas into Japan by Wasaburo(u) Asano. Asano created the Shinrei-Kagaku-Kenkyujyo (Japanese Society for Spiritual Science Research) in 1923, which is apparently still in existence today, although confirming that hasn’t been easy.
Fukurai started out by studying specific mediums and psychics. One in particular was Chizuko Mifune, pictured above. Mifune claimed to have gained her powers at the age of 25 after much breathing and meditative practices. Sadly, Mifune who later took her own life following a demonstration of her ‘powers’ which led to her being discredited. She ingested poison and committed suicide. Of particular interest to today’s post was a psychic by the name of Ikuko Nagao. According to Dr. Fukurai, Nagao was able to transmit her thoughts and project them onto film. This was the start of what was to become “thoughtography”. It wasn’t long before Nagao was also accused of being fraudulent and she too later died.
The third time apparently being the charm for Dr. Fukurai, he met with Sadako Takahashi who was also able to produce thoughtography. With the time spent studying Takahashi, Dr. Fukurai published Toshi to Nensha which was translated and published into English as Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. Critics notwithstanding, Dr. Fukurai was apparently able to have some success in the area of Thoughtography. ALthough not much of it is available on the internet, I was able to track down at least photo which is attributable, allegedly, to Dr. Fukurai’s nensha experiments.
Dr. Fukurai wasn’t the only person who did work in this area, however. A clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical school, and a charter member of the Parapsychological Association, by the name of Julie Eisenburd wrote numerous articles on psychiatry and psychoanalysis based on studies he did relating to telepathy. In the 1960’s , Eisenburd discovered a unemployed bell hop by the name of Theodore Serios. Serios, who is better known as ‘Ted Serios’, had an unusual gift. By concentrating on a polaroid camera, Serios claimed that he could project his thoughts on to the undeveloped film. Serios was apparently engaging in thoughtography just as Takahashi had some 30 years before.
As with most paranormal or psychic phenomenon, the thoughtographs produced by Serios didn’t always display something. More often than not they were either completely black, as though they had never been developed, or completely white, as if they were overexposed. On occasion however, strange fuzzy like images could be seen to have appeared on the film. As with Takahashi and Nagao before him, the source of these images were allegedly the mind of Serios.
Probably not surprisingly, skeptics and photographers alike believe that Serios and Eisenburd collaborated together on hoaxing all of the photographs that Serios produced. The claim was that Serios would palm materials that would be exposed onto the photographs and would result in the images which were alleged to be thought projections. Eisenburd seemed to remain convinced of the ability he believed Serios had. He would eventually write a book all about Serios titled The World of Ted Serios: "Thoughtographic" Studies of an Extraordinary Mind.
What are we to make of these claims? I for one remain skeptical, but as always open-minded. Though I couldn’t offer a mechanism which would explain how thoughtography could work, I’m not ready to rule it out either. The evidence which Takahasi, Nagao, and Serios produced isn’t exactly the most concrete, but who can say what we could learn in the future? Perhaps this is an area worth investigating further. I’m also left curious if anyone has attempted to use digital cameras for thougthographic experimentation? In the end, I will leave to the reader to decide for themselves how the feel about these claims. As for myself, I’m going to start trying to figure out how I can take a digital thoughtographic selfie.